Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are a common sight in salad bars and ethnic restaurants around the country. Chickpeas are widely appreciated for their mild flavor and creamy texture. Like other legumes, they are a healthy, low-fat source of protein. Chickpea allergies are relatively rare in the United States, but common in some other countries.
Chickpeas have been cultivated for over 9,000 years, making them one of the earliest cultivated food crops. Their drought tolerance, long storage life and high nutrition levels made them a valued and much-loved crop in the ancient world. The family of Cicero, the Roman philosopher and lawyer, took its name from the plant. Chickpeas are certainly enjoyed in the West, but are a daily staple in India, the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
Chickpeas as an Allergen
When your body has an allergic reaction, it's because your immune system has misinterpreted a harmless protein in your food as a threat. It overreacts by manufacturing antibodies to attack the protein. Consequences range from hives or a mild rash, all the way up to potentially-deadly anaphylactic shock. Chickpeas and other legumes are high in proteins, and are therefore potential allergens.
Most food allergies are first detected by the people who have them. If you notice you get a rash every time you eat chickpeas, you're probably allergic. Other reactions can include difficulty breathing, asthma, a lump in your throat, bloating and diarrhea. Skin reactions such as a rash or hives, and respiratory reactions such as asthma or difficulty breathing, are the most common reactions to chickpea allergy. Doctors can test for specific antibodies, narrowing your allergy down not just to chickpeas, but which specific protein within the chickpeas is causing your reaction.
Whole chickpeas are easy to see in soups and salads, and are easy enough to avoid. They are less obvious in many prepared dishes, including Middle Eastern staples such as hummus and falafel. Chickpeas are especially difficult to avoid in Indian food, and it's not surprising that they are a common allergen in that country. There they are often split and peeled, after which they are known as channa dal. Chickpeas are also ground for flour, and used to make a variety of foods including crisp pappadums and the fritters called pakoras. If you have a chickpea allergy, avoid Indian restaurants.